The Emanuel administration agreed to pay $4.5 million to the family of a woman killed in 2012 by an off-duty Chicago cop even though city lawyers didn’t interview the officer or other witnesses under oath — an unusual move in such wrongful death cases.
Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez’s office, meanwhile, waited months to gather key evidence in the shooting, including the ownership history of the officer’s unregistered gun and blood tests on a cell phone and knife found at the scene, records show.
Those details — revealed in emails released by Alvarez’s office after a public-records request by the Chicago Sun-Times — raise new questions about how city lawyers and county prosecutors handle controversial police shootings like Detective Dante Servin’s killing of 22-year-old Rekia Boyd.
Boyd’s family filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Servin and the city on April 5, 2012, less than a month after she was killed. Melvin Brooks, the lead attorney for Boyd’s family, said a city lawyer began discussing the possibility of a settlement just a few weeks later.
“That never happens,” said Brooks, a veteran of lawsuits involving police. “Often you’re at the courthouse doorsteps before there’s any meaningful discussion with the city of Chicago.”
Brooks and city officials confirmed that no depositions were taken in the case.
“I was convinced they did not want to have Servin under oath,” Brooks said.
After the settlement, one Cook County prosecutor examining the shooting wrote to others in his office that the decision to conduct no depositions in the case “seems unusual.”
Bill McCaffrey, a spokesman for the city’s Law Department, didn’t explain why the city decided not to conduct depositions in the Boyd family’s lawsuit. But he said city attorneys evaluate all police misconduct cases to weigh whether they should be settled.
“This assessment strategy continues to achieve significant cost savings for taxpayers” — adding up to an estimated $90 million since 2011, he wrote in an email.
Servin was eventually charged with involuntary manslaughter in Boyd’s death, but last year a Cook County judge found him not guilty, suggesting Alvarez’s office should have charged him instead with first-degree murder.
The emails from the Cook County state’s attorney’s office shed new light on how Servin came to be charged — and why it took more than 20 months to do so.
About 1 a.m. on March 21, 2012, Servin was driving in the alley next to his West Side home when he encountered two men and two women walking to a nearby store. After he asked them to quiet down, one of the men swore at him, and 39-year-old Antonio Cross said he waved Servin away, thinking he was trying to buy drugs.
Cross was carrying a cell phone, but Servin said Cross made a move toward his waistband and held up what appeared to be a gun. As Servin was turning his car in the opposite direction, he pointed his own gun across his body and fired at least five times. One of the shots hit Cross in the hand. Another hit Boyd in the head. She fell to the ground and later died.
Cross ran to the end of the alley and flagged down another police car that was responding to the shots, according to the Independent Police Review Authority, which investigates police shootings. He then returned to the scene.
Aside from Servin’s weapon — a Glock semiautomatic pistol he’d failed to register — no other gun was found, and Cross maintained he was unarmed. Still, police placed Cross under arrest for aggravated assault.
“Above offender placed into custody after being positively identified as the person who pointed a handgun at a Chicago police officer,” the officers wrote in their arrest report.
But the criminal complaint, signed by a detective, was less certain about whether Cross was armed: “The offender knowingly an[d] unlawfully pointed an object which the victim believed was a handgun at the victim.”
Investigators for the state’s attorney’s office spoke with witnesses that day, and IPRA conducted a series of interviews over the next couple months, according to IPRA records.
On Jan. 18, 2013 — 10 months after the shooting — officials in the state’s attorney’s office held a “walk-through” interview with Servin and his attorney, according to their emails. It’s not clear if anyone in the office had interviewed Servin previously: There’s no mention of it in an IPRA report on the case or in other correspondence released by the state’s attorney’s office, and a spokeswoman for the state’s attorney’s office didn’t respond to requests for comment.
During the Jan. 18 meeting, Servin added new details to his account of the shooting, according to the IPRA report. Servin said after he’d seen Cross pull out a gun, “he thought he heard a gunshot and felt ‘something’ on the back of his head. [Servin] stated that he believed that he had been shot.”
On March 11, 2013, the City Council’s Finance Committee approved the $4.5 million settlement with Boyd’s family, and the full City Council signed off two days later.
“Corp. Counsel’s office advises that NO depositions were taken in the Servin case,” assistant state’s attorney William Delaney wrote to other officials the following week. “Seems unusual when a settlement is reached in less than a year.”
The same day the council approved the settlement, prosecutors dropped their criminal case against Cross. From that point on, the state’s attorney’s office appeared to focus its efforts in the case on Servin, according to the emails.
But if prosecutors were to charge the police officer, Cross would be a key witness. And that was problematic.
A folding knife had been found “near” Cross the night of the shooting, according to emails from Delaney. Servin told officials he had not seen Cross wield a knife, and Cross had denied having one.
On April 1, 2013, Delaney told other state’s attorney officials that tests had matched DNA on the knife to blood on Cross’s cell phone.
“Antonio Cross has a credibility problem,” Delaney wrote.
Eventually Delaney issued Cross a grand jury subpoena. Cross’s testimony was consistent with what he’d said to investigators before, according to the IPRA report.
The state’s attorney’s office collected more evidence on Servin through the spring of 2013.
On May 7, the office put in a request with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to conduct a trace on Servin’s Glock. A spokeswoman for the state’s attorney’s office didn’t respond to a question about why this wasn’t done sooner.
Delaney sent Assistant State’s Attorney Michael Golden a draft of a memo on the case on May 24.
“I plan to add a paragraph analyzing the weakness of Servin’s defense – including how he moved his car and inconsistencies in his statements,” Delaney wrote in his email.
Still, six more months passed before Alvarez was ready to proceed.
“We have another meeting with the State’s Attorney tomorrow to discuss possible charges against Servin,” Delaney wrote an investigator for the office on Nov. 20. “I believe the State’s Attorney is leaning toward charges.”
On Nov. 25, 2013, Alvarez announced charges against Servin for involuntary manslaughter and reckless discharge of a weapon. “It is a sad and difficult day for law enforcement when an incident such as this occurs and criminal charges are warranted,” she said.
Brooks said her office should have moved much more quickly against Servin. “It didn’t take a year-plus to determine that this officer had acted improperly,” he said. “If Servin was a private citizen he would have been charged that night with murder.”
As she battles for re-election — starting with two challengers in the March Democratic primary — Alvarez has stressed that charges in police shootings only follow “thorough” investigations. Such cases are “extremely complex,” she said, because cops are authorized to use force.